Following is an excerpt of a post by Justin Black, Executive Director of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).
This summer, iLCP is conducting one of its trademark RAVEs (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the fight to pass the Chesapeake Clean Water Act. Justin's post, originally published on the iLCP blog June 12, 2010, refers to an assignment for The Nature Conservancy on Virginia's Dragon Run Swamp, in his words, "making it an interesting point of reference as iLCP prepares to launch a Chesapeake Bay RAVE in summer 2010."
Our thanks to Justin and iLCP for permission to reprint this excerpt.
The Dragon rippled as I slid the kayak out into the swamp’s caramel brown water. The still quiet of pre-dawn was broken only by the song of a prothonotary warbler, a croaking bullfrog, the sudden splash of a jumping sunfish. Gliding along on the glassy surface past lush swamp plants – arrow arum, water lilies, swamp rose, the lovely purple poker-like blooms of pickerelweed – and under the spreading branches of bald cypress, their conical “knees” emerging from the water in rows like the Dragon’s teeth, I felt completely removed from the Tidewater Virginia farmland that encircled me beyond the forest. Entering this place was like time-travel.
I had come to photograph the landscape of Dragon Run Swamp, the wild centerpiece Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, on assignment for the The Nature Conservancy which has recently protected the watershed in a Manhattan-sized conservancy, Virginia’s largest at 20,000 acres (80.9 km2). As one of the healthiest and cleanest wetlands in the Chesapeake region, this exceptional conservancy serves as a model for other watersheds around the Bay, making it an interesting point of reference as iLCP prepares to launch a Chesapeake Bay RAVE in summer 2010. This unique ecosystem has been ranked second in ecological significance among 232 areas investigated in a Smithsonian Institution study which covered 12,600 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay region. It’s easy to see why.
The water teems with fifty-five species of fish, including the young of several anadromous species – striped bass, American shad, alewife and blueback herring among others – that migrate here from the Bay or the Atlantic in the spring to spawn. Chain pickerel, warmouth sunfish, and white catfish are some of the native fish species that call the Dragon their year-round home. The watershed is a birder’s paradise as well, with various songbirds, bald eagles, osprey, heron, and egrets in abundance. It’s an important stop for migratory waterfowl as well, and shy wood ducks are particularly fond of the cover provided in the swamp. In the forest, wild turkeys are frequently seen… or only heard.
Ebony jewel-wing damselflies with bodies of metallic blue and green warm themselves in the sun’s first rays and then flit from leaf to leaf. Water beetles cruise narrow channels between green stems, and large crayfish take refuge in burrows scattered along the banks of the swamp.
Before me was a view that Captain John Smith could have seen in 1607, and it would have been essentially unchanged for millennia before. Today, on the east coast of the United States, landscapes like Dragon Run are not simply rare. Thanks to The Nature Conservancy, the Friends of Dragon Run, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Dragon Run watershed provides a unique window into the past, and one that – if we embrace its lessons – will help lead us on the path to a sustainable future.